We welcome summer in our vegetable gardens. However, hordes of pests do as well. There are insects, fungi, bacteria and viruses all celebrating the feast that we have provided them with. And what is our reaction? We declare war on them, using whatever weapons we think will work.

South Africa is the highest importer of pesticides in Africa ~ over 3000 pesticides are registered for use in South Africa, including 67 hazardous pesticides that are already banned in the European Union. 

The problem with pesticides is that they do not only affect the organisms which are being targeted. They also contaminate ground and surface water, air and soil, affecting human health and non-target wildlife. This includes beneficial insects which eat the pests, break down crop residues in the soil or help pollinate many types of fruits and vegetables.

Powdery mildew on cucumber plants

Another problem is that insects and fungi become resistant to the chemicals. This means that the pesticide no longer kills the pests and leads to the development of stronger insecticides.

One response to these problems is to genetically modify the plant’s protein manufacturing system so that it now makes a protein that wasn’t previously present. This carefully selected protein is one that is toxic to certain insects. This meant that beneficial insects would not be affected and the use of pesticides would decrease. That was fine ~ until the pests developed resistance to the protein.

So what is a smallholder to do?

Parsely is beneficial to other plants

There are several things that we can do, starting with a shift in thinking. Rather than worrying about killing the pests, let’s rather focus on creating ideal conditions in which our soil is healthy and deeply supportive of plant health, so we are stimulating life.  

No till or limited disturbance of the soil helps to retain the correct balance of beneficial organisms and plant nutrients.

Plant a variety of plants near each other (intercropping) and practice companion planting, which is based on the principle of planting different plants near each other for their mutual benefit, such as attracting beneficial insects and, often, pest control.  

Cowpeas planted between rows of maize

Plant enough so that some plants can be sacrificed to the insects or plant plants specifically to attract insects, so that they leave your vegetables alone.

Use copious quantities of compost, mulch and cover crops to help to create strong plants.

Integrated pest management also includes the use of beneficial insects, which can be ordered from suppliers.

We have written in the past of DIY pesticides using natural ingredients. They tend not to have long-lasting effects, so we need to alternate them and apply them quite frequently.

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